Celebrating the holidays should always include spending time with all of the wonderful people in our lives; family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. This brings us all together as a community and allows us to truly enjoy the company of people as opposed to just their role and function in our day-to-day lives. The holidays also give us a great chance to give back to our community, including donating our time, gifts, food and winter clothing necessities, etc. Additionally, with the “hustle and bustle” pace of the holiday season, often times we do not prioritize our events or schedule our time well enough to include everything we want to. One specific example of this is spending time with our senior relatives and friends. Many seniors who live in assisted living facilities may not get many visits from friends and family, if any at all, so if you have the opportunity to volunteer and spend time with seniors make sure to consider doing so as you have no idea what that really means to them. Furthermore, when everyone gathers for the holidays it is a great chance to really see the person in front of you and to have conversations about how they are doing and plans for the future. This is especially beneficial for spending time with our older parents and grandparents, as spending time during the holidays also provides a chance to assess their health and the little things that may be missed in chats on the phone or as time has passed.
It is important for seniors to stay active and enjoy the company of others during the holidays. Kristina Krumme of Elk Ridge Village details the wide array of activities, events, and special services offered to their residents during the holidays. “We have tons of great things going on during the holiday season! We take everyone out on the Elk Ridge Village bus for tours of the holiday lights all around Omaha. Several local schools and church groups visit to sing carols, and we’ve made ginger bread houses with the Girl Scouts. We even have a holiday boutique which allows folks who don’t want to venture out to get in some holiday shopping. We also have a resident Christmas party where we have a gift exchange game, and a New Year’s Eve celebration with dancing and live entertainment. Additionally, many residents enjoy our holiday bible studies, crafts…even jolly Saint Nick makes a stop and there is no age cut-off for who gets to sit on his lap! We also offer a guest room, which is very similar to a hotel room, that we can rent to families coming in from out of town. Visitors are always welcome to stay with their folks or family members in their apartments too!” She adds, “It is very true that when visiting elderly family members during the holidays, it may be shocking to see a decline in health and spirits and this is often a time when families start to think of their loved ones’ future. Also, after all the hustle and bustle and excitement of the holidays season, the long cold and lonely days of winter settle in and more of a decline becomes apparent. Even though some think winter is not the ideal time for a move, sometimes it really helps seniors who are struggling with these issues. Furthermore as the holidays are very busy, do take the time to spend time with loved ones so you don’t have any regrets. It is not only good for your elderly relatives but I promise it will benefit you as well!”
Simply visiting seniors during the holidays can mean the world, especially to those who may be experiencing holiday blues or those who are lonely and may not have much company otherwise. Mindy Crouch of Pando Geriatrics advises that everyone should make sure they visit their senior family members and friends during the holidays. She says, “This is a time that most people will feel lonely and forgotten, so it is really important to make sure that we take time to visit our elderly loved ones—especially if they cannot attend family gatherings. Most facilities will provide some sort of holiday get together and grandparents love to show off their grandchildren and families. Play games, look through photo albums, and spend some time updating them on what your family has been doing over the last year.”
Sennora Washington of Hickory Villa adds, “At Hickory Villa we are proud to host Thanksgiving Dinner and a Christmas Brunch for our residents, staff and families. During the holiday season it is a very special time and we take full advantage of decorating the building, inviting families in for entertainment and taking our residents out to see Christmas lights. During the holidays many seniors can become depressed as memories of holidays and loved ones surface. The holidays are a great time of the year to partner with other aging organizations and youth groups to provide one on one companion care to residents outside of normal scheduled activities and events. It is also a great time to pair with individuals to provide donated Christmas gifts for those residents with little to no family, or out of town family. I would encourage family members to observe the homes of their loved ones as they travel for the holidays. As winter approaches you want to make sure your loved one is prepared for any weather-related complications and check for proper maintenance to ensure their safety. Warning signs include personal care neglect such as hygiene and housekeeping items, changes in driving ability and mental health concerns such as confusion and depression.”
Comfort Keepers strives to maintain consistency in the lives of the seniors whom they provide services for, which helps alleviate holiday stress for the client and their family. Comfort Keepers can help with tending to housekeeping, meal preparation, scheduling, or grocery shopping. Caregivers also enjoy opportunities to escort seniors on shopping trips, help them wrap gifts or decorate their home. Rick Magill of Comfort Keepers says, “As a family oriented business, Comfort Keepers encourages our senior clients to engage in holiday festivities. For our clients in community living residences, our caregivers often accompany seniors to scheduled activities within the facility. In the home setting, our Comfort Keepers encourage and accompany clients to local festivities through their church or in their community. Comfort Keepers also encourages participation in local activities and we can provide safe transportation and accompaniment to ensure seniors can attend holiday programs, craft fairs, or visit friends and relatives. Our compassionate caregivers help seniors feel cared about and important. Whether assisting in the home or accompanying in the community, our client’s know that they can rely on us to be with them each step of the way.” He adds, “It is often the visiting family that notices changes in their loved one’s capabilities. If you are visiting your family and you notice they need some assistance, Comfort Keepers can offer peace of mind through free consultations to help families assess and offer solutions to the needs their loved one requires to keep safe and independent in the comfort of their home. In addition, Comfort Keepers has been serving the community for over 11 years and extends their experience and their concern for seniors’ well-being by assisting as a resource to their families in the event that other organizations could be of help as well.”
As everyone gathers with family from near and far during the holidays, this time spent together presents an opportunity for important conversations to take place with senior relatives regarding health and legal matters. Chuck Dorwart of LifePlan Nebraska emphasizes the importance of having family discussions as soon as possible to solidify future plans and wishes. He says, “I really stress the importance of forward thinking as it applies to estate planning. 70% of Americans have no will, trust, or any type of estate plan and that is quite an alarming statistic. If the family starts the discussion then it should go farther than just a will or a trust. They need to realize the importance of having powers of attorney documents for health care and financial purposes so someone can provide for their loved ones’ needs if they are determined to be incompetent or maybe in a coma. Families need to have someone who can make decisions while the person is alive as well. Husbands and wives often, and mistakenly, believe that if their spouse is in the hospital in a coma that they can make medical decisions for the ill spouse simply because they are the spouse. That is incorrect. The most famous story to illustrate this problem is the Terri Schiavo case, a famous legal struggle involving prolonged life support that lasted from 1990-2005. Of course, each family situation is different. If Mom and Dad are older, maybe the children could start the conversation by asking if they have heard of the Terri Schiavo case and then discuss the importance of the power of attorney documents. If families don’t have a power of attorney for health care and a loved one is in the hospital in a coma, the only way to help them with their medical decisions and financial decisions is to seek appointment by the probate court as the person’s guardian and conservator. That process is a long, involved and expensive process.” He adds, “The most important thing to consider is that everyone should complete a basic estate plan. The basic estate plan should at least include a Will, a power of attorney for health care purposes, a power of attorney for financial purposes, and a living will. Don’t procrastinate; do the planning now. Waiting until it is too late will cause expenses and complications to rise dramatically.”
Toni Schmitt of Home Instead Senior Care offers some basic reminders for families who will be spending time with their senior family members and friends during the holidays. “This is a joyous time with loved ones so try to stay focused on that; do your best to be in the moment and not get overwhelmed by all of the little things going on. Priorities can often be hard to focus on as we want the perfect holiday experience. Wanting the dinner to be set and prepared just right is nice, but it pulls our focus away from enjoying that precious one-on-one time with our loved ones. Sometimes keeping things simple is the best way to go. Too many activities can overwhelm our loved ones, as they can prove to be too much to handle and withdrawal is a common reaction. Also, being in the moment will allow you to notice non-verbal cues they may be giving out signaling that things need to be adjusted. Be present and hold conversations where you both can equally express your feelings. This is also a great time to start discussing those topics that may be difficult, like finances, advanced directives, and having someone as their power of attorney in case of an emergency situation. It’s important to remember that this will be you someday, so take great care that you are fostering their dignity and independence. Make sure that immediate family and siblings are involved so that everyone is on the same page, but don’t breach their privacy. Generally a good sign that things may need to be addressed is the presence of health-related changes. There are definitely some key things to look for. Are they able to ambulate safely in the home? Are they able to drive to appointments or the store safely? Are they staying engaged and active? What do their clothes look like? Are they stained or dirty? Are they eating properly and drinking enough fluids? Do they regularly take their medications and have them organized? How is their memory? Is their house as tidy as it used to be or is there some need for assistance? These are all things to assess while you’re there spending time with them, and they are also things to ask them about. How are they feeling about situations? Do they feel overwhelmed or like it would be nice to have help?” She adds, “Home Instead CAREGivers provide a wide range of services from transportation, meal preparation, medication reminders, light housekeeping and personal services to help families with their loved ones through these challenges. There’s nothing wrong with needing assistance. We have found that companionship and one-on-one attention is vital to one’s wellbeing, as well as respite for family members who serve as caregivers. We want to be there for our community, so we always encourage people to feel free to give us a call with any questions or concerns. We have many services to offer and a wealth of experience in this specific area that allows us to guide others along this path. We do our best to make discussions and transitions easier on everyone involved.”
While being home for the holidays may mean different things to different people and at different ages, it is important that home is where you feel safe and supported. There are many different ways to achieve this goal, and many different businesses and organizations in the Omaha community that are available to help you achieve the goal of feeling at home, wherever that may be. We encourage everyone to get out and visit senior relatives and friends both near and far, and fellow members of the Omaha community this month for the holidays–spread some cheer all around!